Why is it in the tech world it has to be one or the other? Handheld gaming has to compete with mobile devices and every time a handheld struggles the blame is squarely placed on the rise of the mobiles. Yet when handhelds do well, much like Nintendo's 3DS currently, you never hear that the mobile market is suffering from this. Perhaps in the tech world we can have our cake and eat it too.
Since the rise of the iDevice we've constantly heard that this will be the death of handheld gaming. Companies like Nintendo and Sony will suddenly find themselves on the outside looking in as people drop their 3DS's and Vitas in favor touch based gameplay found on nearly every smart phone and tablet. Yet the market lives on. No matter how many games are released in the App Store, no matter cheaply these games are priced, and no matter how many smart phones and tablets are sold; the handheld market continues to thrive.
Could it be that there isn't as big of a competition here as we were lead to believe? I think so.
Smart phones and tablets are excellent devices that do so many amazing functions I often wonder how I got by without one. Being able to browse the web, check my email, fire off text messages, update my Facebook, and more in the palm of my hand is nothing short of incredible. Even the games have come a long way and I often find myself pulling out my phone for some Plants vs Zombies from Popcap Games or whatever the flavor of the month is when I've got a couple of minutes to spare.
Now why is it the 3DS and Vita need to do all of this and more at the same level? Both of these devices are built with gaming in mind first and everything else second. There's no need for my 3DS to do everything my smart phone does because Nintendo knows that I'm always going to have my smart phone with me.
This same concept carries over to the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Neither of these consoles perform all the extra functions my PC does and the ones they do you can barely compare. Facebook on my PS3 and 360 is something of a chore. Internet browsing is nonexistent on my 360 and the browser on the PS3 isn't that great either. Email is pretty much impossible on the consoles unless you use the PS3's web browser.
At the same time you never hear complaints about the consoles not competing with the PC platform despite offering many of the same games. Often the games on consoles don't look nearly as good as their PC counterparts. Take a look at Battlefield 3 from DICE. The PC version blows the console versions out of the water in nearly every aspect.
We have the PC which performs multiple tasks far better than the consoles could hope to do. Visually the PC is leaps and bounds ahead of the 360 and PS3. Also the PC offers a slew of games and services you won't find on either console. Oh yes I also forgot to mention the wonders of digital distribution which brings reduced prices to the table.
For some reason though the consoles survive much like the 3DS has against the mobile devices which are supposedly miles ahead of it in terms of functionality.
The reason for this is simple. The games. Sure the 3DS struggled out the gate, many cast the rising mobile market as the culprit behind this. Fast forward a few months and Nintendo starts to release some amazing games, along with a decent price cut, then suddenly the 3DS is selling like no other. It quickly outpaced the DS's first year on the market even and the DS is one of the best selling consoles of all time.
Software is what keeps gaming platforms alive. As long as Nintendo has amazing titles like Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, and even Capcoms' Monster Hunter Tri-G behind it there is going to be a market for it.
Sony will no doubt see similar success with SCE Bend Studio's Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Resistance: Burning Skies from Nihilistic Software. If you want the latest and greatest from Sony or Nintendo then you're going to need one of their handhelds.
Of course you can't discredit the mobile market's advances in the gaming section. Both the App Store and Android's Marketplace play home to some truly amazing titles. There's no denying the success of Angry Birds from Rovio Mobile which has been downloaded millions of times and is one of the most popular mobile games out there. I also have to mention the Infinity Blade series from Chair Entertainment which puts on an impressive display of visuals using Epic Games' Unreal Engine 3.
Quality has come a long ways for mobile devices as developers put more focus into these platforms with interesting gameplay mechanics, better graphics, and engaging ideas. However you won't the next Mario, Pokemon, Nathan Drake, or Ratchet title here. Those well known franchises are only on devices made by Sony and Nintendo. Games like those are the reason these devices were created in the first place. Not so you could browse the web, check your Facebook, send a text message to your friend, or make a phone call.
This is where the market truly splits and you begin to realize that the competition isn't as big as it has been made out to be. Yes there is some cross over in the audience and there have been some who have gone with a mobile device to fit their gaming needs. But if you're setting out to find a great gaming experience on the go there's a good chance you'll be looking to the 3DS or Vita instead of the latest iPhone or iPad.